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High Cascades Hiking Oregon Sky Lakes/Mountain Lakes Area Trip report

Sky Lakes Basin Day 2 – 09/25/2022

We woke up way too early for the time of year and found ourselves playing Yahtzee on Heather’s phone lest we would be hiking out from our camp at Trapper Lake in the dark. After some less than stellar scores we packed up camp and set off on the Sky Lakes Trail back toward the Cold Springs Trailhead.
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IMG_2682Low-light at Trapper Lake.

IMG_2689Sunrise from the trail.

IMG_2691Sunlight hitting the tops of trees.

Just before reaching the Heavenly Twin Lakes we came to the Isherwood Trail where we turned right.
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The Isherwood Trail passed by the larger of the Heavenly Twin Lakes.
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The trail left the lake and climbed gradually through the forest to a rocky bluff above Isherwood Lake.
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IMG_2701Heading up to the bluff.

IMG_2706Pelican Butte beyond Isherwood Lake.

IMG_2708Fall foliage above Isherwood Lake.

About half way along Isherwood Lake we detoured to the other side of the trail to visit Lake Liza.
IMG_2709Heading for Lake Liza through a dry bed.

IMG_2710Great reflection

After returning to the Isherwood Trail and passing Isherwood Lake we passed Elizabeth Lake on our left.
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Elizabeth Lake was followed by Lake Notasha on the right with another nice reflection.
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IMG_2722_stitchLake Notasha

IMG_2728Depending on the angle the water was a beautiful green.

A short distance beyond Lake Notasha we came to the end of the Isherwood Trail at the Sky Lakes Trail.
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We turned right for a third of a mile to a junction with the Cold Springs Trail.
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We turned left this time following the Cold Springs Trail pointer. This trail climbed a lot more than we’d expected as it passed by Imagination Peak but after nearly two miles we arrived back at the junction with the South Rock Creek Trail which we had taken the day before.
IMG_2746Parts of the latter half of this trail passed through the 2017 fire scar.

IMG_2748Fireweed seeds

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IMG_2753Pelican Butte as we descended toward the junction.

We turned right here for the final 0.6 miles to our car.
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IMG_2757Leaving the Sky Lakes Wilderness

IMG_2758Dark-eyed junco seeing us off.

IMG_2760An as of yet unidentified flower.

20220925_092616Another unidentified flower.

IMG_2761I do know this one – bleeding heart.

IMG_2764Woodpecker (it was a busy final 0.6 miles).

IMG_2765Back at the shelter and trailhead.

Our hike out came to 6.6 miles with just over 1000′ of elevation gain.

Dark track is Day 2 while the light solid line is Day 1.

It had been a great Autumn weekend for a backpacking trip and the hikes were great. The only negative to come out of it was Heather’s knee which had been a lingering but manageable issue for most of the year finally decided it had had enough. She has some PT ahead and no hiking so I’ll be on my own for a bit. The good news her knee should be fine and we didn’t have any more featured hikes on our schedule until mid-Spring next year. It also means we might be welcoming some new kitties into our home sooner than we’d expected since she won’t be joining me on the October hikes. Happy Tails! (or Trails!)

Flickr: Sky Lakes Basin Day 2

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High Cascades Hiking Oregon Sky Lakes/Mountain Lakes Area Trip report

Sky Lakes Basin Day 1 – 09/24/2022

An excellent weekend forecast allowed us to head back to the Southern Oregon Cascades less than a week from our three night, four day stay in Shady Cove (post). In an attempt to give us the best chance to finish our featured hike goal (post) I’d recently broken a 5-6 day backpacking trip in the Sky Lakes Wilderness into shorter trips. During our Shady Cove stay we did the Blue Lakes Basin hike (post) and now we were back for an overnight backpack in the Sky Lakes Basin to check off Sullivan’s Sky Lakes via Cold Springs and Sky Lakes via Nannie Creek hikes. (Hikes #43 & #44 respectively in edition 4.2 “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Southern Oregon & Northern California.)

We started at the Cold Springs Trailhead.
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IMG_2395Shelter at the trailhead.

We set off through a 2017 fire scar following the Cold Springs Trail into the Sky Lakes Wilderness.
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IMG_2399Aster

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IMG_2407Fireweed

After 0.6 miles we came to a junction with the South Rock Creek Trail.
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Both forks would lead to the Heavenly Twin Lakes but the South Rock Creek Trail would do it in a shorter distance (1.8 vs 2.4 miles) so we stayed to the right and followed that trail through more burned forest.
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IMG_2417Comma butterfly

We left the fire scar after about a mile and continued another 0.8 miles to the first Heavenly Twin Lake.
IMG_2419Exiting the fire scar.

IMG_2420Doe watching us through the trees.

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The larger lake lay just beyond the smaller and provided a view of Luther Mountain.
IMG_2431Luther Mountain on the left and Lee Peak on the right.

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After checking out the view we continued on the Sky Lakes Trail which led along the East side of the large lake arriving at the junction with the Isherwood Trail at the far end.
IMG_2436Sign for the Sky Lakes Trail.

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IMG_2443Isherwood Trail junction.

We would be taking the Isherwood Trail the next day on our way back to the car but for now we continued straight for 1.9 miles to Trapper Lake where we looked for and found a campsite for the weekend. Along the way we passed several small ponds and unnamed lakes and one named one. It was clear why the area is notorious for mosquitos until late Summer (we only noticed two the whole weekend).
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IMG_2448Lake Land

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IMG_2457Luther Mountain from Trapper Lake.

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After setting up camp we returned to the Sky Lakes Trail and continued North along the lake passing the Cherry Creek Trail coming up from the right before arriving at a junction with the Donna Lake Trail.
IMG_2467View along the trail.

IMG_2468Sign for the Cherry Creek Trail.

IMG_2469Sky Lakes Trail sign.

IMG_2470Donna Lake Trail to the right.

This was the start of an approximately 8.8 mile loop around Luther Mountain. We had decided to do the loop counter-clockwise so we took the left hand trail which kept us on the Sky Lakes Trail. This trail led around the North end of Trapper Lake for 0.2 miles where it met the Divide Trail.
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IMG_2473Divide Trail junction.

We stayed left here and started following the Divide Trail which would lead us to the Pacific Crest Trail in 2.8 miles. Shortly after starting up this trail we detoured right to check out Margurette Lake.
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The trail passed close to this lake offering several views of Luther Mountain along the way.
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Beyond Margurette Lake the trail began to wind it’s way uphill passing several smaller bodies of water including Lake No-SE-Um where several mergansers had congregated.
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The trail turned back to the North passing above Margurette and Trapper Lakes along a shelf before turning West and climbing more steeply via switchbacks.
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IMG_2507Saddle Mountain is in the distance with pointy Cherry Peak in the foreground. I believe that is Agency Lake visible in the Valley.

IMG_2514Pelican Butte to the right.

IMG_2515Mt. McLoughlin (post) to the South.

IMG_2517Eagle flyby.

IMG_2522Lather Peak with several more lakes below.

IMG_2524In the distance to the left is Aspen Butte (post) in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness.

IMG_2530Fall is in the air.

IMG_2531On of several small bodies of water along the shelf.

IMG_2533We know there were pikas out there because we heard their “meeps” off and on all day but with so many rocks we were never able to spot one.

IMG_2535Heading toward Luther Mountain.

IMG_2539Pelican Butte on the left and Mt. McLoughlin on the right. The peaks in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness are behind and to the right of Pelican Butte then the small, closer hump is Imagination Peak. To the right of Imagination Peak and slightly further back is Lost Peak and then further to the right (left of Mt. McLoughlin) is Brown Mountain (post). Interestingly according to Peak Finder Mt. Shasta should be visible in between Imagination and Lost Peaks but apparently there was enough smoke/haze in the sky that it was camouflaged.

After passing through the switchbacks the trail straightened out and headed almost due West as it climbed through a rock field on the southern flank of Luther Mountain.
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We left the rock field and made a final climb to a saddle where we arrived at the PCT.
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IMG_2551Luther Mountain from the saddle.

IMG_2553The Pacific Crest Trail.

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After catching our breath we turned right on the PCT which descended slightly to a ridge to the West of Luther Mountain. We followed this ridge, which had been burned in 2014, for a little over a mile to a junction with the Snow Lakes Trail.
IMG_2556Lucifer Peak directly behind Shale Butte.

IMG_2557Lucifer Peak, Shale Butte, Devil’s Peak and Lee Peak.

IMG_2562Blowdown on the PCT.

IMG_2566Luther Mountain

IMG_2573Luther Mountain and Mt. McLoughlin behind us.

IMG_2575Lots of little birds along the ridge but most didn’t stop long enough for even a poor picture.

IMG_2580Sign at the Snow Lakes Trail junction.

We turned right onto the Snow Lakes Trail which passed along another shelf full of small lakes.
IMG_2581Martin, Wind and a Snow Lake from the Snow Lakes Trail.

IMG_2583Hawk circling overhead.

IMG_2585While I was trying to keep track of the hawk this Bald Eagle flew over.

IMG_2588Nearing the end of the 2014 fire scar.

IMG_2591Luther Mountain from one of the Snow Lakes.

IMG_2592Another of the lakes.

IMG_2593Tree on the edge of the shelf.

IMG_2595View from the shelf.

IMG_2601There were many cool rock features along the trail.

IMG_2603Devil’s Peak

IMG_2605Lee Peak and another of the Snow Lakes.

After approximately three quarters of a mile on the Snow Lakes Trail we dropped to one of the larger lakes where we briefly lost the trail.
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IMG_2610A tree had fallen over the Snow Lakes Trail hiding it right where a use trail veered off to the lake. Only seeing the use trail we followed it along the lake until it petered out. A quick look at the map showed we were off-trail so we made our way back finding the downed tree covering the actual trail.

After regaining the trail we followed it downhill via a series of switchbacks past another lake.
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The trail then began to turn ESE as it continued to descend toward Martin Lake and the Lower Snow Lakes. A total of 2.3 miles from the PCT we came to the Nannie Creek Trail junction.
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IMG_2624The worst obstacle for the day.

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IMG_2629Pelican Butte from the trail.

IMG_2630Sign at the Nannie Creek Trail junction.

We stayed right on the Snow Lakes Trail at the junction. After 0.4 miles we passed Martin Lake on our right.
IMG_2634Luther Mountain as we neared Martin Lake.

IMG_2635Dragon fly blending in with the huckleberry leaves.

IMG_2641Martin Lake with a view of the shelf that we’d been on.

Two tenths of a mile beyond Martin Lake we came to what was labeled Lower Snow Lakes on our map which was partly in Luther Mountain’s shadow.
IMG_2643Red huckleberry leaves

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We found a log in the shade along the shore where we took a nice break.
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After our break we continued on the Snow Lakes Trail another three quarters of a mile to a junction with the Donna Lake Trail.
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It was another 0.7 miles back to Trapper Lake either way but the Donna Lake Trail led past Deep and then Donna Lakes so we veered left and took that trail.
IMG_2659Deep Lake was up first, just a tenth of a mile down the trail.

IMG_2665Donna Lake was only two tenths further.

IMG_2670Donna Lake Trail

We arrived back at the Sky Lakes Trail at Trapper Lake and headed back to our campsite for dinner.
IMG_2674Back at Trapper Lake.

Dinner didn’t go as planned as we realized when we pulled our water filter out that we’d left all the hoses at home. Fortunately we carry Iodine tablets for just such an occurrence so we had a way to treat water but by the time it was all said and done we decided to skip a warm meal and opted to eat some of the extra food we’d brought. At least we’d have water for the hike out the next day though. It cooled off quickly once the Sun had vanished and for the first time in a while we got to test the warmth of our sleeping systems.
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Today’s hike came in at 14.5 miles with approximately 2300′ of elevation gain.

Day one is the dark track with the light solid line being part of day 2.

The number of lakes/ponds was almost hard to believe and the scenery was really nice. The timing was great with almost no bugs and the trails were in relatively good shape, just a few downed trees here and there but nothing too difficult to get past. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Sky Lakes Basin Day 1

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High Cascades Hiking Oregon Sky Lakes/Mountain Lakes Area Trip report

Blue Lake Basin – 09/18/2022

The second day of our Southern Oregon trip was forecast to be the wettest so we headed for the Sky Lakes Wilderness where the cloudy conditions wouldn’t hinder our views too much. Our goal for the day was to hike to Island Lake via Blue Lake Basin then possibly return via Cat Hill Way. The out-and-back to Island Lake is featured hike #40 in Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Southern Oregon & Northern California” guidebook (edition 4.2). We had visited Island Lake in 2016 (post) but from the other direction. Since that visit only covered 0.1 miles of the featured hike and the hike is titled “Blue Lake Basin” not Island Lake we had not considered it done.

We began at the Blue Canyon Trailhead.
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A crisp wind blew through the small meadow near the trailhead encouraging us to hustle downhill on the trail into the trees which provided some relief.
IMG_1712An old fence in the meadow.

IMG_1714Entering the Sky Lakes Wilderness.

IMG_1715Into the trees we go.

It had been a while since we’d actually been cold starting out on a hike and it was kind of nice. We hoped that the wet weather was also present over the Cedar Creek Fire to the north near Waldo Lake. Here there was no sign of smoke as we hiked through the damp forest.
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Just over a mile from the trailhead we arrived at our first lake of the day, Round Lake.
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We continued on the Blue Canyon Trail another 1.2 miles to Blue Lake where a bald eagle startled me when it took off from a tree directly over my head.
IMG_1727The cliff face above Blue Lake ahead from the trail.

IMG_1733Hiking along Blue Lake.

20220918_085604Blue Lake

IMG_1739The bald eagle across the lake after startling me.

The combination of cool temperatures, wet ground and light rain kept us from lingering too long at the lake and we were soon on our way to the next one. Just beyond Blue Lake we veered right at a trail junction to stay on the Blue Canyon Trail.
IMG_1743The South Fork Trail went to the left past Meadow Lake and the Mud Lake before following the South Fork Rogue River to Road 720.

The Blue Canyon Trail passed to the right of Meadow Lake before arriving at a junction with the Meadow Lake Trail in a quarter mile.
IMG_1747Meadow Lake

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IMG_1751Meadow Lake Trail junction.

For now we stuck to the Blue Canyon Trail which brought us to Horseshoe Lake in another half mile.
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IMG_1754Just beyond this small pond south of the trail we turned right on a use trail which led out onto Horseshoe Lake’s peninsula.

IMG_1759Camping is prohibited on the peninsula which is signed in multiple places.

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After exploring the peninsula we returned to the Blue Canyon Trail and followed it to the next lake, Pear Lake, which was just over a half mile away. We took another use trail down to the shore of this lake which is not at all shaped like a pear. (Unless it’s named after the core then maybe but it would still be a stretch.)
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IMG_1773Ducks flying further down the lake.

From Pear Lake it was just over 1.75 miles to Island Lake. The trail climbed up and over a ridge passing above Dee Lake before dropping into Island Lake’s basin.
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IMG_1783Grouse

IMG_1784The only flowing water we’d encounter on this day after not crossing any streams the day before at Union Peak (post) either.

IMG_1815Dee Lake barely visible through the trees.

IMG_1790Bigelow’s sneezeweed

IMG_1794Meadow near Island Lake.

IMG_1795A Horse Camp sign.

IMG_1796Island Lake through the trees.

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We couldn’t remember exactly where we’d gone down to the lake on our previous visit, just that it had been a short trail to the Judge Waldo Tree. We turned left on a clear use trail which brought us down to the lake but not to the tree we were looking for.
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IMG_1806There were a lot of mushrooms down by the water though.

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We returned to the Blue Canyon Trail and continued around the lake to another use trail and again turned left. This one looked familiar and indeed brought us to the Judge Waldo Tree.
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IMG_1812For those interested the 1888 inscription reads:

Judge J.B. Waldo
William Taylor
H.P. Minto
E. J. Humason
F. W. Isherwood
September 13, 1888

Judge Waldo was an early voice for conservation of the Cascade forests (today he most likely would not have carved his name into the tree like that).

Now that we’d linked the two hikes together we were content to head back. When we’d made it back to the Meadow Lake Trail junction we turned uphill onto that trail.
IMG_1817Pear Lake from the Blue Canyon Trail.

IMG_1820Back at the Meadow Lake junction.

IMG_1821Heading up the Meadow Lake Trail.

This trail was much steeper than the Blue Canyon Trail had been and if we were to do the hike again we most likely would opt to come down this way.
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IMG_1832The huckleberries don’t lie, Autumn was right around the corner.

IMG_1833Approaching the ridge top.

IMG_1834Not sure what we missed here but imagine it was some of the peaks in the Sky Lakes Wilderness.

Just over a mile from the junction the Meadow Lake Trail ended at Cat Hill Way.
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This trail ran between the Pacific Crest Trail (1.5 miles to the left) and The Blue Canyon Trailhead (2.25 miles to the right). We turned right following a very old roadbed that climbed gradually just below the summit of Cat Hill before descending to the meadow at the trailhead. While the other trails had been well maintained this one had a number of downed trees that were fairly easily navigated. This trail did provide a view of Mt. McLoughlin (post) albeit limited on this day due to the cloud cover.
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IMG_1858Colorful fungus

IMG_1856Mt. McLoughlin

IMG_1861A little fresh snow, a welcome sight.

IMG_1863A nice little viewpoint just off the trail.

IMG_1870Passing below Cat Hill.

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IMG_1874Back to the trailhead.

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Our hike came in at 12.2 miles with approximately 1700′ of elevation gain.

We only saw a few other people which was surprising even with the wet weather given how popular this area is in the Summer. It had sprinkled off and on for most of the morning but we didn’t ever feel the need to put our rain gear on. We drove back to Shady Cove and after changing headed to 62’s Burgers and Brews for a late lunch/early dinner. The clouds were once again breaking up which was encouraging as we were heading back to Crater Lake the following day where we would be hoping for some good views. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Blue Lake Basin

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High Cascades Hiking Oregon Sky Lakes/Mountain Lakes Area Trip report

Fish Lake and Lake of the Woods

Sunday of Columbus Day Weekend was the only day of the four where the forecast in the Cascade Mountains looked promising so on that morning we headed west from Klamath Falls on Highway 140 to visit a pair of lakes near Mt. McLoughlin.

The skies over Klamtah were pretty much clear as was the case for most of the drive, but as we crossed over the Cascade Crest we found ourselves in a fog bank. We turned off the highway at sign for the North Fork Campground between mileposts 28 and 29. We parked at a small trailhead parking area a half mile down this road on the left.

It was a chilly morning in the fog as we set off on the Fish Lake Trail, but it wasn’t raining.
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The trail began by passing through a nice fir forest with occasional views of North Fork Little Butte Creek.
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After .6 miles we came to a signed spur trail which we followed 100 yards to the Fish Lake Dam.
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For the better part of the next mile the Fish Lake Trail veered away from the water as it curved around some private summer homes.
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When the trail did make it to the lake there wasn’t much to see due to the fog.
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The trail stuck closer to the lake shore for the next .8 miles before arriving at Doe Point and the Doe Point Campground. As we made our way around Doe Point the fog began to lift revealing some of the blue sky we had seen on our morning drive.
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A quarter mile after rounding Doe Point we arrived at the Fish Lake Campground and boat ramp where a variety of woodland animals were busy harvesting chinkapin.
IMG_4068Stellar’s jay

IMG_4069Chipmunk

IMG_4072Golden-mantled ground squirrel

Our guidebook suggested turning around at the Fish Lake Resort, but we wound up losing the trail near the picnic shelter and decided not to try and walk through the campground to find the continuation of the trail and turned around.
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It was a different hike on the way back as the fog had entirely lifted from the lake and was breaking up overhead.
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By the time we were hiking back along the creek the sky was a beautiful blue.
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Typically having a hike only clear up near the end is a bit of a bummer, but we had another hike to go and with the clear skies we knew we should have a good view of Mt. McLoughlin from Lake of the Woods.

From the Fish Lake Trailhead we drove back east on Highway 140 to a sign for Fish Lake. We turned right at the sign and followed this road for a mile and a half to the Dead Indian Memorial Highway where we turned right again. The suggested starting point for this hike in our guidebook was at the Sunset Campground which was a mile down this highway. When we arrived at the entrance road we found it was gated so we turned around and wound up parking at the Rainbow Bay Picnic Area near the Lake of the Woods Resort after obtaining a $6 parking pass.
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From the parking lot we headed SE along the lake shore around Rainbow Bay where some ducks were enjoying the wonderful weather.
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The first mountain to come into view was Brown Mountain across the lake.
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Shortly after rounding the bay we arrived at the Sunset Campground where we did indeed have a nice view of Mt. McLoughlin. The mountain was sporting a dusting of new snow at its summit.
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We could picture the route up to the summit that we’d taken a couple of years before (post).
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Satisfied with our view we turned around and headed back toward the Rainbow Bay parking area. We weren’t done hiking though and we veered behind the parking lot on the Sunset Trail toward the Aspen Point Campground.
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At a three way junction we turned right onto the Family Trail Loop.
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The Family Trail Loop crossed the paved road we’d been on earlier after a tenth of a mile.
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Just after crossing the road the Mountain Lakes Trail split off to the right while we stayed left.
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Several interpretive signs were set up along this trail.
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We stayed left ignoring a tie trail that would have looped us back to the Mountian Lakes Trail junction and arrived at the Great Meadow .6 miles from the road crossing.
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At a junction with the High Lakes Trail at the Great Meadow we turned left skirting the meadow in the forest for .7 miles to another road crossing across from the Aspen Point Campground.
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At a junction on the other side of the road we went right keeping on the High Lakes Trail which led around Lake of the Woods to the NW. This section of trail passed some golden aspen trees and a leaf covered slough where ducks, geese, and a heron were spending their Sunday.
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We followed this trail past an old Forest Service complex and planned on turning around at the guidebooks suggested location, a small canoe launch.
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The canoe launch wasn’t much, but there was a nice view of some of the peaks in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness (post) across the water.
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A solitary duck was swimming around in the launch and it apparently expected us to have some food because she came right up to us.
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We did our best to explain that we don’t feed the wild animals and she waddled back to the water. At that point Heather asked about something on a plank in the water that I had originally thought was another duck but then decided it was just a rock set on the wood. She had taken it for something inanimate as well but then thought she saw it move. Upon closer inspection we discovered that it was a muskrat (initially we thought nutria but it was cuter than that invasive species).
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It wasn’t particularly concerned by us but eventually it disappeared into the water. Then a dragon fly showed up and hovered over the water just below me.
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After our unique little interaction with nature it was time to start back. We returned to the Aspen Point Campground and followed paths near the lake shore back to the Lake of The Woods Resort.
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Our hike here was 6.3 miles long while the hike at Fish Lake had been 7 miles giving us a nice 13.3 mile day. After the cold, foggy start the day had turned out beautiful. We would be heading home the next morning (with a stop along the way of course) and this was a perfect way to end our time in the Klamath Falls area. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Fish Lake and Lake of the Woods

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High Cascades Hiking Oregon Sky Lakes/Mountain Lakes Area Trip report

Brown Mountain Lava Flow

On our go-home day we try and pick a shorter hike to do on the way home.  For this trip is was a 5.8 mile round trip to visit the Brown Mountain Lava Flow. We began packing up early using our headlamps and our Luci Color Inflatable Solar Light After taking the tent down we made some coffee and had a quick breakfast. We had found a spot along Badger Lake the night before that made for the perfect place to enjoy our final moments there.

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We headed back toward the Badger Lake Trailhead munching on huckleberries as we went. When we were able to get a view of Mt. McLoughlin across Fourmile Lake we were greeted with a nice reflection of the mountain. It was the first time the water was calm enough to allow for one.

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Once we were in the car we drove back to Highway 140 and turned right for 3.2 miles and turned into the Summit Sno-Park. The trail began at the far end of the parking lot.

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In .2 miles we crossed the Cascade Canal on a footbridge.

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On the far side of the canal was the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail.

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We turned left on the PCT and headed toward Highway 140 which was .4 miles away. The canal was nearby and along this section of PCT were a few campsites. Heather had brought more Doritos to pass out and as we neared the highway we met a thru-hiker packing up her camp. One more bag of chips down. 🙂

After making the dash across the highway we cam to a pair of back to back trail junctions lay about a quarter mile from the highway.

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It would have been possible to do an entire loop around Brown Mountain on the trails but we had a long drive ahead of us. Our plan was to follow the PCT for another 2.1 miles before turning around. The forest quickly gave way to fields of lava with occasional views of its source – Brown Mountain.

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Most of the trails we’ve been on that passed through lava flows have been rocky and uneven but that was not the case with the PCT here. When the trail was built dynamite was used to blast out the route then red cinder was laid to even out the tread.

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It was a nice easy trail to hike and we made quick time making it to our turnaround point. We were watching for Pikas but never saw any, we just heard a couple of their distinct “meeps”. For views in addition to the lava fields there were a number of great views of Mt. McLoughlin.

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It was a bit late in the year for flowers but a small number of them were still in bloom along the PCT.
Pearly everlasting

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Common mullein

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Thistle

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On our way back to the car Heather handed out one final bag of chips. It was the perfect distance and difficulty for an “on-the-way home” hike. It had taken us just over two hours and we were back on the road headed home by 10:15am leaving us plenty of time to unpack and cleanup when we got there.

Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157672098699882

Categories
High Cascades Hiking Oregon Sky Lakes/Mountain Lakes Area Trip report

Mt. McLoughlin

Our plan for the second day in the Sky Lakes Wilderness was to hike to the summit of 9495′ Mt. McLoughlin, the sixth highest peak in the Oregon Cascades. We were going to hike the 2.5 miles back to our car from Badger Lake then drive the approximately 3 miles to the Mt. McLoughlin Trailhead. It would have been possible to hike the whole way by going back to Fourmile Campground and taking the Twin Ponds Trail to the Pacific Crest Trail and then turning up the Mt. McLoughlin Trail, but that would have been a nearly 25 mile hike.

Before setting off we ate breakfast watching the sunrise from Badger Lake.

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As we passed Fourmile Lake we got a nice view of our goal for the day.

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At the campground we took advantage of the water pump near the trailhead and filled our CamelBak bladders as well as our Hydroflasks. It was going to be another warm day and we wanted to make sure we had plenty of water for the nearly 4000′ climb. Heather also loaded her pack with little bags of Cool Ranch Doritos just in case we ran into any thru-hikers on the short section of the Pacific Crest Trail that the Mt. McLoughlin Trail shares. From the campground we drove back along Fourmile Lake Road and turned right near milepost 3. The Mt. McLoughlin Trailhead is located at the end of the maintained portion of this road.

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It was around 8:30am when we arrived and the parking lot was already packed with cars. It was so full in fact that we had to loop around and park on the shoulder near the lot entrance. There is a large sign at the trailhead and, an identical sign near the wilderness boundary, warning of the dangers of Mt. McLoughlin. The main issue hikers run into is getting lost during their descent if they veer too far south in an attempt to take a short-cut.

The second sign near the wilderness boundary.

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Sullivan has the same warning in his “100 Hikes in Southern Oregon” guidebook so we were already aware of the issue, but the sign added a tip to always keep Fourmile Lake in view on the way down.

The trail set off through a forest of Mountain Hemlock and almost immediately crossed Cascade Canal which looked more like a creek here than it had near Fourmile Lake.

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In the first mile the trail entered the Sky Lakes Wilderness and climbed gradually to a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail.

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For a short distance the PCT and Mt. McLoughlin Trail were one and the same. Heather was on the lookout for thru-hikers to offer her Doritos to and I was looking for a side trail shown in our guidebook as well as on our maps that led down to Freye Lake. We were planning on visiting that lake on the way back down but I always like to make sure I am familiar with where I am going to be turning. According to the information we had the side trail was approximately .2 miles from the PCT junction. Then it would be another .2 miles to where the PCT and Mt. McLoughlin Trial parted ways. I never spotted the side trail and Heather hadn’t seen any thru-hikers when we reached the split.

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I happened to look at the GPS which showed our location as being at the side trail down to Freye Lake and not the PCT split which on the GPS map was further ahead. We continued one wondering if the PCT had been rerouted at some point and was now sharing at least the first part of the trail down to Freye Lake. We kept an eye out for signs of a former trail in the area where the GPS showed the PCT splitting off but all we saw was blowdown.

We hadn’t seen the side trail or any thru-hikers but on the PCT but we did see something we hadn’t seen on either of the previous two days – a deer.

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We’d been a little surprised that we hadn’t seen any on the trails yet, just a pair bounding off from near a horse corral in the Fourmile Lake Campground when we drove in the day before. After sizing one another up for a bit we went our separate ways. We were on a 1.5 mile section of the trail that climbed slowly away from the PCT toward Mt. McLoughlin. At times we were able to see the summit rising above the trees.

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The easier 1.5 mile section ended when the trail finally realized that we had to go up to reach the summit. The trail steepened drastically as it began climbing up increasingly rocky terrain amid an ever thinning forest.

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The thinning forest did allow for some views of the surrounding area.
Pelican Butte and Fourmile Lake

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Lake of the Woods and the Mountain Lakes Wilderness

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Mt. Thielsen beyond the Rim of Crater Lake and the Sky Lakes Wilderness

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Brown Mountain and Mt. Shasta

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It was a little hazier than it had been two days earlier when we had climbed Aspen Butte in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness, but one improvement was the view of Mt. Shasta as sunlight reflected off the snow.

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As we trudged uphill the locals kept a close eye on us.

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As we gained elevation most of the trees gave way leaving Whitebark pines and some manzanita bushes.

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There were occasional glimpses of the summit which always seemed to be the same distance away – far.

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About one and a quarter miles from the summit we reached a saddle where much of the remaining route was visible.

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Along this final section a few alpine flowers added some color to the area while a couple of patches of snow attempted to make it through the year.

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It was about noon when we arrived at the summit to find a decent sized crowd gathered.

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There was plenty of room though and we took a seat near the summit register.

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In addition to there being quite a few hikers at the summit there were numerous butterflies and bees who seemed to really like me.

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There was a heavy band of smoke possibly coming from the Trail wildfire that was visible from the north beyond Mt. Thielsen all the way south into California. Despite the haze on the horizon the skies above the mountain were bright blue and beautiful and there was still a decent view in all directions.
Pelican Butte, Fourmile Lake and Squaw Lake

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Aspen Butte in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness

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Mt. Shasta beyond Fish Lake

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Mt. Ashland

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Union Peak, Hillman Peak and Mt. Thielsen

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The Sky Lakes Wilderness with the peaks around Crater Lake and Mt. Thielsen beyond

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We broke out our snacks including a couple of the bags of Doritos which we had forgotten would expand at that altitude. Luckily none of the bags exploded but they did look like little balloons. After sitting awhile we began to get a little warm. There had been a nice gentle breeze on the way up but oddly there was none whatsoever on top. We began our descent remembering not to drift too far south.

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On the way down we took some time to study some of the volcanic rock formation in the mountains glacier carved north face.

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The loose volcanic rock was kind of nice to descend in. It was soft on the knees and kept us from picking up any unwanted speed. On the climb up though it was a different story as every step up came with a small slide backward. One way to eliminate having to deal with that issue is to climb the mountain while there is still some snow (post).

We still wanted to visit Freye Lake on the way back to the car so when we reached the Pacific Crest Trail we pursued our earlier theory of a possible reroute that used the existing trail to the lake. We kept an eye on the GPS and we could see we were quickly beginning to move away from the lake so our theory was blown. At that point there was only one sensible solution -off-trail bushwack. We left the PCT and followed a little gully down to the lake.

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There was a use trail going around the lake so we followed it clockwise around to east side of the lake where there were a number of campsites and a view of Mt. McLoughlin.

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After taking another break at the lake we continued around hoping to find the missing trail from this end. We weren’t able to locate it but we did find something. A large blue tarp was spread out on the ground surrounded by arraigned logs and rocks. Next to the tarp was a stone fire pit surrounded by a short log fence. Around the fire pit were several items including a gas can, pair of gloves, and several old looking tin cans.

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It all seemed very out of place for a wilderness area. I did send a message to the Forest Service about it, but have not gotten a response yet.

We tried to use the GPS to locate the trail as we climbed uphill from the lake to the PCT. If the GPS was right we crossed over it a couple of times but we never saw anything that was identifiable as a trail, just a couple of spots where tents had been sent up, probably by thru-hikers.

Speaking of thru-hikers when we were back on the PCT we spotted one approaching. Heather had her Doritos in her pack and then kind of froze and didn’t say anything as she passed. For whatever reason she suddenly had become shy about asking if they would like a snack. Luckily she got a second chance as another hiker was coming up the trail. She asked this one if he’d like some Doritos and his face lit up. He introduced himself as “Sobo”. It turned out that it had been his girlfriend who had passed us just before so Heather gave him a second bag for her. Another pair of thru-hikers followed and more chips were handed out and then we were off the PCT.

When we got back to the trailhead we found even more cars than there had been that morning. We freed up a spot by heading back to Fourmile Lake Campground where we refilled our water.(We had both emptied our CamelBaks and were glad we’d brought the additional water in the Hydro Flasks) We had brought our dinner for the night with us (Mountain House chicken and dumplings) and decided to cook it at the day use area near the Fourmile Lake boat ramp. We followed the Badger Lake Trail from the trailhead to the crossing of Fourmile Lake Road then turned down the road to walk to the day use area. At the campground entrance on a signboard was a trail conditions report.

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We thought it was kind of strange not to have a copy on the signboard at the trailhead as well, but at least it explained the blowdown beyond Badger Lake on the Badger Lake Trail. We ate dinner at the day use area and watched people doing whatever it was they were doing down by the lake.

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After dinner we returned to the Badger Lake Trail by hiking past a gated road at the end of the parking area near the boat ramp.

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This time as we passed the little side trail .9 miles from the canal we turned down toward the lake to a rocky beach with a view of Mt. McLoughlin.

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We sat on the beach and soaked our feet before continuing on toward our tent at Badger Lake. We took one final detour to look around the south side of Woodpecker Lake.

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It was just us again at Badger Lake that night, well us and a couple ducks and some frogs actually.

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Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157673125210295

Categories
High Cascades Hiking Oregon Sky Lakes/Mountain Lakes Area Trip report

Sky Lakes Wilderness – Badger Lake Trail

After spending the night camped by Zeb Lake in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness we packed up our tent and headed back down the Varney Creek Trail to the trailhead and our waiting car. Our plan was to spend the next two nights in the nearby Sky Lakes Wilderness and do some exploring in that area. We drove back to Highway 140 and headed east toward Medford for 12 miles and turned right onto Fourmile Lake Road (a.k.a. Forest Road 3661) and drove another 5.7 miles to the Fourmile Lake Campground where we parked at the Badger Lake Trailhead.

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When I was penciling this trip out I had originally considered staying at the campground but the thought of being in such a popular car campground wasn’t very appealing so the plan I settled on was hiking into to one of the other lakes along the Badger Lake Trail. We threw our packs back on and set off on the trail hoping to find a quieter, more private place to set up camp. The trail led away from the campground to a junction with the Twin Ponds Trail which connects up with the Pacific Crest Trail near Squaw Lake.

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We turned left following the Badger Lake Trail as it passed through a forest of lodgepole pine.

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The trail veered back toward the campground to a crossing of Fourmile Lake Road near the campground entrance then swung away again into the forest and meeting up with the Rye Spur Trail which travels to Lake of the Woods.

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We crossed Cascade Canal .8 miles from the trailhead. The canal was built and Fourmile Lake dammed to drain the lake west toward Medford instead of to its original eastward route to Klamath Lake. At the canal there was a post with no signs attached and a road running perpendicular to the trail. There was no obvious continuation of the trail on the far side of the road so I checked the GPS map which showed the road making a small loop and the trail picking up on the far side of that loop. We decided to go around clockwise since that direction led us toward Fourmile Lake and we hadn’t had a good look at it yet. After climbing up on some of the boulders along the dam we were able to get a glimpse of the large lake.

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The road made the loop just as the GPS had shown and we picked up a clear trail heading to the left into the forest. There was also a clear trail coming from the right which we decided we would follow when we were headed back to the trailhead. For now we headed left and soon entered the Sky Lakes Wilderness.

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Fourmile Lake was once again hidden by trees until we were about three quarters of a mile from the canal. Finally a couple of side trails led to driftwood piles along the shore and views across the lake to Mt. McLoughlin.

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The best viewpoint was down a short path about .9 miles from the canal but we didn’t go down that trail until the following day. We were focused on finding a campsite and getting out from under our backpacks. The first lake after Fourmile Lake we came to was Woodpecker Lake. Located about one and three quarter miles from the canal this little lake was on the right hand side of the trail.

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We stopped briefly to see if there were any campsites that were too good to pass up but we didn’t see anything obvious and we were starting to notice a few mosquitoes so we continued on to nearby Badger Lake.

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Badger Lake was less than a quarter mile from Woodpecker Lake and it was a little larger than it’s neighbor. We weren’t seeing any campsites along the southern end of the lake nor did there appear to be the usual use trail going around the lake anywhere. We continued on the trail along the lake for a few hundred feet without seeing anything. Looking back across the lake we thought the terrain on the SW side looked like it might be suitable for campsites so we decided to head back and check out that area. We headed cross country through the forest near the lake and did manage to find a few spots that clearly had been used as campsites at one time but they all looked like it had been awhile. We set our packs down in the best looking spot and did a little further exploration before deciding that we had identified the most suitable one.

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After getting camp set up we strapped on our daypacks and continued on the Badger Lake Trail. We planned on going at least another 1.9 miles to Long Lake and then possibly continuing an additional 1.6 miles to the Pacific Crest Trail where we would only be .6 more miles from Island Lake and the Judge Waldo Tree.

When we reached the northern end of Badger Lake we discovered a couple of established campsites but we were happy with the spot we’d picked. Just beyond these sites the trail crossed a small stream connecting that connected Badger Lake to a long meadow with a lily pad pond.

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As we passed along the meadow we began seeing some wildflowers including several bigelow’s sneezeweeds.
Arnica

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Columbine

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Aster

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Yarrow

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Bolander’s madia

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Bigelow’s sneezeweed

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The trail had been skirting the meadow, but some large piles of blowdown had forced a reroute through the meadow where we had to carefully watch our step due to the presence of frogs. Having to go slow through the meadow made us easier targets for the small number of mosquitoes that were still present.

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When arrived at Long Lake it was easy to see how it earned its name.

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There were a number of campsites along the lake but no one was occupying any of them. We had passed a pair of hikers earlier that had been camped there and they said they didn’t see anybody while they had been there. It was only 1:45pm and we were feeling pretty good so we elected to continue on to Island Lake despite the increasing blowdown. There had been intermittent blowdown over the trail since the meadow, but beyond Long Lake the amount really increased.

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On the plus side the entire trail was relatively level and we managed to reach the PCT without too much difficulty.

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At the junction the Badger Lake Trail was hidden by blowdown.

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On the opposite side of the PCT the Blue Canyon Trail appeared to be relatively clear.

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A quick downhill .2 miles along that trail brought us to a junction with the Red Lake Trail and in another .4 miles we reached the unmarked side trail that led to some campsites and the Judge Waldo Tree.

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In 1888 a group of 5 horsemen led by conservationist Judge J. B. Waldo camped at Island Lake while riding from Willamette Pass to Mt. Shasta on what would become the route of the Pacific Crest Trail. While at the lake they carved their names in the tree (an act that current day conservationists would never consider doing now).

We took a break at the lake enjoying a snack before filtering some water for the evening. While we were getting the water we received a thorough fishing report from a young man who had been camped at the lake with his family. Apparently the fish had been going nuts over salmon eggs but they wouldn’t actually take the bait. 🙂

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When we were finished filling our water we started back toward Badger Lake. When we got back to Long Lake we stopped to cook dinner and watch a group of ducks that were paddling around the lake.

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In addition to the ducks there were a number of small birds flitting around the trees along the shore as well as a Douglas and a Golden-mantled ground squirrels.

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After dinner we returned to Badger Lake where the very top of Mt. McLoughlin was visible over the trees on the far end of the lake.

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Just like the previous night at Zeb Lake we were the only ones camped at the lake. It was indeed a lot quieter than it would have been at Fourmile Campground. We had managed another long day, 17.6 miles in all, and had big plans for the next day as well – summiting Mt. McLoughlin.

Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157673108018195

Categories
High Cascades Hiking Oregon Sky Lakes/Mountain Lakes Area Trip report

Mountain Lakes Wilderness

We used a long weekend to take a trip down south to visit a pair of wilderness areas between Medford and Klamath Falls. We started our trip at the Varney Creek Trailhead located at the end of Forest Road 3664. To reach the trailhead we turned off of Highway 140 on Forest Road 3637 near milepost 36 for 1.8 miles before turning left on road 3664 for another 1.9 miles.
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Our plan was to take the Varney Creek Trail to the Mountain Lakes Loop and set up camp at either Eb or Zeb Lake then complete the loop using our daypacks.

The Varney Creek Trail begins in a fairly dense forest as it slowly climbs between Mt. Harriman and Varney Creek (which we could not see or hear).
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A little over a mile along the trail we entered the 36 square mile Mountain Lakes Wilderness. One of the 8 original wilderness areas in Oregon created by the 1964 Wilderness Act.
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At the 1.4 mile mark we came to an wet area that had seen a lot of blowdown. A pair of bridges helped keep us out of the mud created by some trickles of water.
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It was on our way out the next day when we realized that this was actually a crossing of Varney Creek.

We were now on the west side of the creek and for the next couple of miles the trail passed by a series of meadows to the left and dry, open slopes on the right. The majority of the wildflowers were finished but a few stragglers remained.
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Aster
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Fireweed
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Paintbrush
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Scarlet gilia
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Larkspur
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Near the four mile mark the trail began to climb a little more steeply up toward the Mountain Lakes Loop junction which we reached after a total of 4.4 miles.
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At the junction we turned right heading toward Eb and Zeb Lakes which were just under a half mile away. This section of trail climbed a little more steeply at first before leveling out some as it neared the lakes.
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The lakes are across from one another on either side of the trail. We noticed Eb Lake on our right first and headed over to see if we could find a good campsite.
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We hiked all the way around Eb Lake seeing a few possibilities but nothing that we were in a hurry to claim so when we arrived back at the trail we crossed over to check out Zeb Lake.
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We found a decent looking spot at the edge of a small burned area at the SW end of the lake. We set our packs down and decided to go counter-clockwise around the lake to see if there were any better locations. Along the way we encountered a grassy area full of small frogs.
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We swung out wider to avoid accidentally stepping on any of the little guys. After working our way around and passing through the burnt area we arrived back at our packs and decided that this would be our campsite for the night.
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After setting up camp we threw on our daypacks and continued on the loop. Beyond the lakes the trail steepened as it climbed out of the valley to a saddle between Whiteface Peak and an unnamed point.
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From the saddle the view included Klamath Lake to the east and Brown Mountain & Mt. McLoughlin to the NW.
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From the saddle the trail passed around Whiteface Peak through drier forest.
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Almost a mile and a half from the lakes we arrived at trail junction with the Mountain Lakes Trail.
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We headed left to continue the loop arriving at a second junction in another .7 miles.
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The right hand fork headed downhill a mile to Clover Lake and the Clover Creek Trail. We were feeling pretty good and since one of the reasons we take these trips is to explore the area we headed down toward the lake. The relatively small lake was full of activity. Dragonflies darted through the air and fish seemed to constantly be breaking the surface of the lake feeding on insects.
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We sat by the lake enjoying the action while we had a snack. When it was time to continue we took a look at our maps to locate an old trail that was no longer maintained. This abandoned trail would lead us back up to the Mountain Lakes Loop Trail about a mile from where we had left it. We had to continue downhill past Clover Lake for just a bit and almost missed the turn but a small rock cairn and an old blaze in a tree helped us locate it.
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Despite the trail no longer being maintained there weren’t too many obstacles and between the blazes and cairns, following it wasn’t difficult.
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After making it back to the Mountain Lakes Loop Trail we continued on quickly arriving at a viewpoint along the rim above Lake Harriette.
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Approximately a mile from where we had rejoined the loop trail a pair of large rock cairns marked a use trail to the summit of 8208′ Aspen Butte.
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The mile long use trail began up a wooded ridge before views opened up of our goal.
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The trail followed the ridge SE before heading up more steeply up the butte.
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It was in the mid 70’s and we were feeling the heat going up the exposed trail and we welcomed a little shade and breeze at the summit.
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The horizon was hazy in all directions but it was all blue skies above the wilderness. To the south was snowy Mt. Shasta.
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To the north the Sky Lakes Wilderness, the peaks around Crater Lake, and Mt. Thielsen lay beyond the Mountain Lakes Wilderness.
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To the northwest Mt. McLoughlin rose above the Sky Lakes Wilderness.
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Klamath Lake lay to the east.
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After another nice break we returned once again to the Mountain Lakes Loop which almost immediately began descending toward a junction with a trail down to South Pass Lake.
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We actually skipped this one since it would have added another 3.2 miles to what was already going to be a long hike. From this junction the trail gradually descended through open forest toward Lake Harriette.
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We had seen a number of hawks already when a large red-tailed hawk flew into a nearby tree.
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Just under two miles from the South Pass Trail we arrived at large Lake Harriette.
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We were looking for a place to filter some water and have dinner but there were two other groups of hikers at this part of the lake so we decided to check out another nearby lake. Echo Lake was just down a hill on the other side of the trail. We bushwacked down to this smaller lake only to find the shore a bit muddy. It was a pretty little lake but not what we were looking for in dinner spot.
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We headed back up to the trail and continued along Lake Harriette. At the west end of the lake an area had been closed to camping. This proved to be the perfect spot for dinner with a nice view of the lake which at times had a good reflection.
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Next to the lake here was a large rock covered slope with a couple of what appeared to be small caves.
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After having dinner and filtering some water we left Lake Harriette and passed over a low saddle heading toward Lake Como. Along the way we passed a small unnamed lake on the left which I somehow failed to get any photos of. A little over a mile from Lake Harriette we arrived at Lake Como.
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It was another .7 miles from Lake Como back to the junction with the Varney Creek Trail where we had begun the loop earlier that day and another .4 miles back to our campsite at Zeb Lake. We arrived back at our tent just before 7:30pm. The days hike had been approximately 17.4 miles and taken us just under 10 hours but we’d managed to see quite a bit of the area. One thing we noticed was that many of the area was very rocky and a lot of the trail had small to medium sized rocks in them making the ground uneven. Otherwise the official trails were all in good shape with little blowdown to navigate.

We had seen a handful of other hikers during the day but the only other people we had seen camping had been at Lake Harriette so we had Zeb Lake all to ourselves as we turned in for the night.
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Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157673010323616